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Julie Duffy talks about emotion and conflict in short stories, and ways to build short stories…

READERSVOICE.COM: Is the transferring of an emotion to the reader the most important feature of writing stories?

JULIE DUFFY: I think so, yes. I studied history at university and learned a lot about the details of other people’s lives, but the periods I cared most about and retain the most about were the ones in which the
professors assigned us a historical novel to read along with the academic stuff. I remember a lot about colonial India not just because I studied it, but because, at the same time, I read The Siege of Krisnapur by J. G. Farrell, which put me in peril, along with the characters, and highlighted what was at stake.
Emotion is the animating factor in short stories.
I like the details, I like to feel I’ve learned something, but emotion is what makes the story stick with me.

RV: What is the best way to write a story? Do you look for a surprising way someone solved a problem?

JD: Ooo, the best way to write a story? There have to be as many answers to that as there are people writing! But that’s not a terribly helpful answer, so let me try again.
Some people need to know how a story ends before they can write it. Having a last line in mind, or the solution to a problem, can be a great way of starting a story. (I don’t mean telling it in flashback,though that can work. I mean: knowing what you’re building towards).
Another good way in is to think of an interesting character. Think of something they would never, ever do and then maneuver them into a situation where that’s exactly what they have to do. Give them a good ‘or else’ and let them make the choice. Think about the consequences for them (and others) if they take action or if they turn away.
Creating conflict for a character is, I think, essential. It doesn’t have to be action-hero action. It can be internal. I read a story about a woman whose son was a priest who was caught up in the sex scandals. The only thing that happened in the story was that someone came to her door. Regardless the story was full of conflict: internal
Me? I like a bit of swashbuckling, but internal conflict works just as well, in the right setting.

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– copyright Simon Sandall